Big Tent for Israel – A Day to Remember

The Big Tent for Israel conference at the Mercure Piccadilly hotel in Manchester city centre on Sunday November 27th was an outstanding success for the organisers, the Manchester Jewish community and the inspiration behind the conference, Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag of the Whitefield Hebrew Congregation.

More than 700 people came from throughout the country to the event aimed at encouraging  grass-roots advocacy and activism to counter the delegitimisation of the State of Israel in the UK.

The Reut Institute in Tel Aviv has identified five streams of delegitimisation in public life: politics, media, churches, academia and trades unions.

The conference invited speakers, experts and trainers from the UK, Israel and the United States to facilitate discussion, learning and workshops in these five spheres.

The keynote speaker at the opening plenary was Israel’s Ambassador  H.E. Daniel Taub who thrilled the audience in a packed International Suite with a stirring speech outlining Israel’s many successes and achievements and castigating the lies of its detractors.

Well-known speakers at the many sessions included Douglas Murray and Lorna Fitzsimons of BICOM who delivered a rousing keynote finale in the closing Plenary telling the delegates that each and every one of them can, and should, contribute to advocacy.

Other speakers included Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute, Yakov Triptou of Israeli Trades Unions organisation, Histadrut.  Bishop Dr Doye Agama, Revd Steve Williams and the Revd Alan Morris were just three of many leading Christian supporters of Israel.

The Muslim community was also represented by two outstanding speakers: Mohammed Amin of the The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester and Kasim Hafeez. Kasim amazed and moved the audience with the story of his journey from anti-Semite to Zionist.

Other outstanding contributors were professor of international law, Prof. Ronnie Sabel of the Hebrew University, Marcus Sheff of The Israel Project, Andrew White of Beyond Images and Stuart Palmer –  an expert in Social Media.

The presence and participation of the British Jewish leadership organisations gave a huge boost and endorsement to the conference. These included Vivian Wineman and Jon Benjamin from the Board of Deputies, Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Leadership Council and Harvey Rose of the Zionist Federation. A video message from Mick Davis, head of the UJIA and the JLC was well received.

Local community leaders also featured prominently: Lucille Cohen of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region , Joy Wolfe MBE of Stand With Us UK, David Arnold of the Council of Christians and Jews and Doreen Gerson of Trade Union Friends of Israel all of whom were organisers of the event along with myself and Benjy Black.

There were also student and youth sessions and a special reception for students provided by the Israeli Embassy.

The event was a triumph for Debbie Marks of Qube Events who made all the arrangements for the venue and whose efforts brought great praise from the organisers and delegates.

The CST provided an amazing security regime and ensured the safety of everyone.

Reaction and feedback from the event has been very positive, and the organisers hope to use the conference to support grassroots activism in the community.

Some pictures have been posted here https://plus.google.com/photos/115830918051751848836/albums/5680436340038578081

Some thoughts on the eve of the Big Tent for Israel conference in Manchester, UK

It’s only a few hours away now and I am beginning to get a feeling in the pit of my stomach similar to that I felt on the eve on my wedding, or my sons’ barmitzvahs.

I have never been so closely involved with an event of this magnitude, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Despite political, community and other problems and issues, we now have the buzz and excitement we wanted with more than 600 people attending the event in central Manchester tomorrow.

Even now I hear that more people from London want to come even though the registration was officially closed at 2pm yesterday.

I have met, communicated with, phoned and emailed dozens of people across the UK and Israel and even the USA.

With a very few exceptions everyone has been incredibly supportive and appreciative of the work that the Organising Committee has carried out in what, in the end, had to be a very short space of time.

We’ve had many ups and downs, a few laughs, several arguments, huge pressure and stress, but tomorrow we shall see that it has all been worthwhile.

A Big, Big Tent thank you to all the team and a special shout out for Debbie Marks of Qube Events who has been and continues to be heroic. Kol HaKavod to Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag whose vision made this event possible.

This is only the beginning of the fight back against the haters and delegitimisers. This is not just about the Jewish community in the UK, it’s about bringing together all those who see the dangers facing Israel from without and within and passionately believe in its survival, in peace and justice for the entire Middle East.

No doubt I’ll be reporting and posting about the event next week.

I can then get back to blogging again which is how I got involved in this in the first place.

 

Big Tent announces Big Hitters

You’ll forgive me for flying the flag for The Big Tent For Israel but as I am involved you may want to see the latest Press Release below:

PRESS RELEASE

Manchester’s Big Tent for Israel event, due to take place on Sunday November 27th, has received a real boost with the news that Israel’s new Ambassador, Daniel Taub, will be the main keynote speaker. “This is a real coup for us” said the event’s initiator, Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, “and we are confident his presence will attract many new participants”. Since taking up his post in September, Ambassador Taub has made a massive impact wherever he has been and his participation in the conference is destined to be no exception.

The Big Tent is now really taking off, with registrations growing daily, and an impressive list of confirmed speakers including Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute, Itamar Marcus of Palestine Media Watch, Yakov Triptou, Histadrut Chairman – Chief of Staff, Lorna Fitzsimons, CEO of BICOM, Simon Plosker of Honest reporting, Adam Levick of CIF Watch, Andrew White of Beyond Images and Shimon Cohen, The PR Office.

Also confirmed is Marcus Sheff of the Israel Project, top advocacy trainers, a strong representation of Christian supporters of Israel including well known activist Dr Denis MacEoin, MPs, trade unionists, academics, student leaders and media personalities.

“Our aim is to make the Big Tent a massive springboard to mobilise many more grass roots activists who are willing to take on the challenge of reversing the trend of deligitimisation of Israel and to ensure Israel’s image is honestly and positively projected to the many people who have been exposed to anti Israel propaganda and media bias” said Rabbi Guttentag.

The event has the backing of many major community organisations including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation, Manchester Zionist Central Council, Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region, UJIA, StandWithUs UK and the political Friends of Israel Groups, as well as many Christian groups who so loyally stand up for Israel

Urging people to sign up and support the conference, Joy Wolfe, chairman of StandWithUs UK and Life president of Manchester Zionist Central Council and co president of the Zionist Federation said, “An amazing group of presenters has been lined up and the Big Tent is now on track to be one of the most outstanding Zionist events Manchester has ever staged. We are honoured that the Israel Ambassador has agreed to deliver the keynote address and that so many top personalities have signalled their intent to be a part of this exciting conference. In my view, it has all the ingredients to turn out to be an ‘I was there’ experience, definitely an event not to be missed”

Online registration is open on the event website www.thebigtentforisrael.org, reserve your place today. Free attendance at the conference for ages 11+, 6th formers and Students.

I understand Douglas Murray will also be speaking.

BBC, the provocatilla and the manipulation of the news

Yesterday the Israeli navy intercepted two yachts trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza.

This blockade has been declared legal by the Palmer Report into the Mavi Marmara incident last year when IDF soldiers killed 9 Turkish ‘activists’ leading a convoy to bring aid to the Gaza Strip.

The two yachts were the rump of a second flotilla which tried unsuccessfully to sail from Greece earlier this year.

This time they decided to sail from Turkey.

As often happens with the BBC website, it is constantly updating its stories as events unfold.

The IDF spokesperson on Twitter Avital Leibovich created the hashtag #provocatilla and those who supported this flagrant attempt to break international law used the hashtag #freedomwaves.

Of course, those aboard the flotilla, mainly Americans and journalists, apparently, have a right to protest and even challenge international law. As long as they realise that they will have to take the consequences if they break it.

These same people are the first to condemn Israel if they are judged to have broken international law. So this was an exercise in hypocrisy. It was also a stunt which was dangerous as their boats struggled in rough seas.

There was a huge irony when the Israelis offered them medical assistance if required. I tweeted that the Israelis were “… offering humanitarian aid to those carrying ‘humanitarian aid’ ” in the full knowledge, unlike the BBC, that the boats carried no such thing.

In fact, when asked what they were carrying by the IDF, the activists told them that they were not carrying anything. So no aid. Yet this seems to have been lost on the BBC journos who characterised this as an aid flotilla thwarted by those dastardly Israelis who will stop at nothing to prevent the beleaguered Gazans from receiving that aid.

This is the first headline the BBC carried:

4 November 2011 Last updated at 14:23

Israel blocks protest boats trying to get to Gaza

Ok, so far not so bad. They were, indeed, protest boats.

The Israeli navy has intercepted and boarded two boats which were trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Exactly right.

The Irish Saoirse (Gaelic for freedom) and the Canadian Tahrir (Arabic for liberation) were travelling about 50 nautical miles from the shore when they were contacted by the Israeli navy and told to turn back, the flotilla organisers told the AFP news agency.

The navy said it “advised the vessels that they may turn back at any point, thereby not breaking the maritime security blockade” or could sail to Ashdod port in Israel or to Egypt.

“The activists refused to co-operate,” AFP quoted the navy as saying.

Nothing about the fact that the blockade is deemed legal by the UN Palmer report but illegal by other UN bodies who do not know or wish to understand international law.

There is also an interesting mention of Turkey not sending warships to accompany these boats. Could it be that the Turks were quietly taken to one side by the Americans? Or is it they already knew that no aid whatsoever was being carried on these boats?

No mention in this  article that hundreds of trucks pass everyday from Israel into Gaza (1500 this week, in fact) to feed their enemy and its captive population and to deliver medical supplies.

Then, a few hours later the headline changed to this:

Israel boards protest boats taking medical aid to Gaza

Wha!!? What ‘medical aid’? Did they not hear what I heard that there was nothing on these boats except some tins of tuna?

Immediately the headline conjures up an image of bad guys, the Israelis, stopping good guys, Gazans, from receiving medical aid – and it’s a complete lie which is still not corrected.

But it’s worse than that: the Israelis offered to escort the boats to Ashdod and, after inspection, take the aid through its regular crossing points.

Yet it still says in plain text:

They were carrying medical supplies for the coastal enclave.

Read it here.

And still no mention of the daily convoys crossing into Gaza.

You would never guess that Israel was supplying vast quantities of aid daily and that the activists had no intention of bringing anything to Gaza but themselves in an act of self-righteous self-promotion that brings peace not one iota closer.

So what image would you display to illustrate this article? A line of trucks entering Gaza from Israel? The flotilla boats? Their empty hulls? No, it was this:

People in the West Bank have staged protests in support of the Gaza flotilla

Again, the support for the flotilla is highlighted when there were apparently a mere handful of people there.

You would think that staging protests would mean a significant number. It’s another misrepresentation of facts.

So much for egregious reporting of the provocatilla.

A day earlier we were subjected to this headline:

Israeli troops ‘kill two in Gaza’

This is elaborated thus:

Israeli security forces have killed two people in a clash on the border of the Gaza Strip, local medics say.

Palestinian sources said Israeli troops had crossed over into northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said it had carried out a strike after a routine patrol came under attack. It said “hits” were confirmed, but said it had no information on casualties.

Why is the headline not:

Gaza militants attack Israeli border patrol

This would place cause and effect, attack and response in the correct chronological order. But no, the BBC always has to tell us what the Israelis did in their headlines regardless of who initiated the incident.

How about if two British soldiers were blown up by a landmine in Helmand and the perpetrators hunted down and killed; would the headline be:

Four Taliban militants killed by British troops in Helmand

I think not.

So what, then, would you expect the BBC to use by way of illustration of this incident? Maybe a picture of militants firing RPG’s? Or IDF troops firing tank rounds? Uh,uh. This is the image they used:

Thursday's clash interrupted a lull in recent cross-border violence

Huh? What the…?

What the heck has an apparently injured young Palestinian against a whitewashed wall with a motorbike nearby got to do with this story? Why is there a young boy looking on?

To me, this is a clear attempt to shift the balance of sympathy for this incident toward the Palestinians. Look, young innocents hurt by the the evil Israelis – again!

It’s a ludicrous photo to use.

The Guardian would be proud of this type of manipulation of news items under the cover of objective reporting. And that just about sums up the depths to which the BBC News website’s Middle East desk has sunk.

 

Israel and its LGBT haters

This is a follow-up to Scott Piro’s guest post on ‘Pink-washing’ which he was kind enough to allow me to publish.

I wanted to add my two cents.

It should be beyond belief that anyone in the LGBT community should stand with groups who are inimical to that community. For these people their hatred of Israel  blinds them to prejudices that can be literally deadly.

It is the same blindness that leads Jews to make alliances with those who would destroy them.

Surely the LGBT community can be critical of some aspects of Israel’s policies whilst applauding and supporting a liberal society that allows freedom of sexual orientation without fear.

In both cases their ideological antipathy to Israel trumps the absurd paradox of their position.

I would parody Monty Python’s Life of Brian when addressing those in the LGBT community who are cheerleading for Palestinian rights whilst ignoring a clear and present danger to their own well-being and their Palestinian counterparts':

“So, apart from the freedom of religion, freedom of sexual orientation, freedom of political views, freedom of the press, access to world class health care, access to world class academic institutions, a vibrant democracy, the right to protest and several Nobel prize winners, what has Israel ever done to persuade us that we should not seek its destruction?”

‘Pinkwashing’ Deconstructed

This is a superb guest post by Scott Piro (@ScottPiro)  which exposes the utter hypocrisy of the  ‘pink-washing’ slur on Israel. (RC)

In 2007, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated a nation-branding campaign informally known as ‘Beyond the Conflict.’ The goal was to change people’s perception of Israel from a war zone populated by the ultra-religious into a more normal place – rich with culture, dominated by high-tech and scientific achievement and grounded in identifiable, Western values.

American nonprofit organizations joined the effort by making sure non-conflict stories saw the light of day – everything from Israeli companies being listed on the NASDAQ and Israeli-made computer chips powering everyday products, to stories about Tel Aviv’s nightlife and Israeli model Bar Rafaeli gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue.

Nation-branding is practiced by many states, from established democracies like the U.S., Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and New Zealand to developing countries like Tanzania, Colombia and Guatemala. It’s not unique to Israel.

In addition to the cultural and technology stories, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought ways to emphasize Israeli values. Israel’s record on LGBT rights was smartly identified as a way to highlight its societal tolerance and diversity, and draw contrast with more repressive regimes in the region and around the world. In reality, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where people are not persecuted because of their sexual or gender identity. Here are the facts for LGBTs in Israel:

  •  Anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTs
  •  Recognition of same-sex marriages performed abroad
  •  Legalized LGBT adoption rights
  •  LGBT soldiers serve openly in all military branches, including special units; discrimination is prohibited
  •  Same-sex couples have the same inheritance rights as heterosexual, married couples

LGBTs enjoy these rights nowhere else in the Middle East. In fact, every other Middle Eastern country makes homosexuality a crime punishable by death (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen) or jail time (Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Algeria), or LGBTs face risks of violence, torture and “honor killings” by militias or their own families (the West Bank, Iraq, Turkey) or harassment and crackdowns from the government and non-state actors (Bahrain, Jordan). In fact, when compared to states outside the region – including most Western democracies – Israel has one of the strongest records for LGBT rights in the world.

Israel’s enemies recognized how favorable this record was for Israel, and that it threatened their efforts to demonize the Jewish state. So they shrewdly maneuvered to use it against her, and link promotion of Israel’s LGBT record to the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza – even though there is none. The idea that the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ campaign is part of a diabolical scheme to cover up abuses of ‘the occupation’ is completely anti-Israel queer activists’ invention; it is their great lie.

Beginning in Toronto in 2008, and later in San Francisco and New York, LGBT anti-Israel groups formed and sought to make being anti-Israel a queer value. Some of these activists are anti-Semitic – whether or not they admit it, even to themselves. The frustrating thing is that many more of them work to brand Israel an ‘apartheid state’ for all the right reasons. They are being manipulated by the combination of deceptive Palestinian leadership, biased Western media and anti-Semites into believing a counterfeit narrative where Israelis are the aggressors and Palestinians are her ultimate victims. It exploits LGBTs’ natural empathy for the oppressed.

Activists who claim to not hate Israel and say they support her right to exist, yet still accuse her of brutal oppression and apartheid, are complicit in preventing a peace deal, propagating terror, and endangering Jews and the State of Israel.

The sad reality is that LGBT anti-Israel groups are throwing our queer Palestinian brothers and sisters under the bus. LGBT persecution in the disputed territories is horrendous – it comes from Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, militias and even the victims’ own families. In the academic report “Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers in Israel,” there is testimony from Palestinian LGBTs who escaped to Israel to seek asylum status. The torture they received in the West Bank is shocking (pages 13-17). For example, one man recounts a horror story of being dragged from his home by PA officers because he was gay, then submerged in sewage water up to his neck for five hours at a time, every day for three weeks (pg. 15). The report comes from Tel Aviv University’s Public Interest Law Program, but it shouldn’t be dismissed for that reason; it’s critical of Israel for not accepting more LGBT Palestinian refugees.

Once peace comes and the IDF pulls out of the West Bank, Palestinian queers will be much worse off. Palestinian LGBT testimony confirms this is what happened when the PA took over Gaza in 2005 (pg. 10). Eighty-two percent of Palestinians support making homosexuality illegal. Many more queers will die in Palestine once a state is achieved. I am not advocating for the status quo, but I do believe energy from queer anti-Israel activists would be better spent educating straight Palestinians not to kill their LGBT brothers and sisters once Israelis leave, instead of vilifying Israel.

Elsewhere in the region, Iran executed three men in September, 2011 for being gay (and two in 2005). The Assad regime in Syria has now murdered over 3,000 of its own people. And Palestinians in Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian refugee camps face conditions much more akin to apartheid than anything experienced within Israel (where they are citizens with the same rights as Jewish Israelis) or the disputed territories (where they are governed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas). Yet where are the Queers Against Iranian Persecution, Queers Against Syrian Torture and Queers Against Lebanese Apartheid groups?

“Palestine is a queer issue,” Israel’s LGBT critics insist. But Iranian torture and execution of LGBTs is not a queer issue? Syrian brutality against its own people is not a queer issue? Lebanese apartheid against Palestinians is not also a queer issue? Why not?

The fact that no LGBT groups protest any of these human rights abuses, but we see a proliferation of queer groups against Israel, meets one of the key criteria in Alan Dershowitz’s list of “factors that tend to indicate anti-Semitism“: “Singling out only Israel for sanctions for policies that are widespread among other nations, or demanding that Jews be better or more moral than others because of their history as victims.” The rest of Dershowitz’s list is worth reading, and he contrasts it to “factors that tend to indicate legitimate criticism of Israel.”

Also worth reading is this letter from Senior Editor of Middle East Quarterly, former professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Edinburgh University and non-Jew Dr. Denis MacEoin: “It seems bizarre to me that LGBT groups call for a boycott of Israel and say nothing about countries like Iran, where gay men are hanged or stoned to death…Thinking it’s better to be silent about regimes that kill gay people, but good to condemn the only country in the Middle East that rescues and protects gay people. Is that supposed to be a sick joke?”

Ironically, some of Israel’s loudest queer critics are Palestinian LGBT organizations. How can this be true, given the documented atrocities LGBTs face from their own government and families inside the Palestinian territories? Perhaps they are looking to gain respect from homophobic, straight Palestinian organizations by bashing Israel, so that conditions for LGBTs inside the future Palestinian state will not meet the worst case scenario. How’s this for hypocrisy – do you know where the Palestinian queer group alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society held their “Palestinian Queer Party” on October 21, 2011? At a Tel Aviv club! Was the reason because it’s not safe for LGBTs to congregate inside a public place in the West Bank at a pre-announced time and place?

Israel’s queer enemies can hurl ‘Pinkwashing!’ claims at her all they want. I, for one, celebrate the fact that the Israel’s government is proud enough of its LGBT rights record to use it for nation-branding. What would happen if the governments of Libya, Iran, Palestine and Syria bragged about their LGBT rights records, too? It would mean more LGBTs around the world would be protected and safe.

Israel’s queer foes are the real pinkwashers, because they conveniently ignore the horrors committed against LGBTs throughout the Middle East in order to focus only on the Jewish state. If the term “pinkwashing” is about covering up facts to push one’s agenda, then anti-Israel queer activists are choking on their own hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

BBC News website MidEast Desk is surely beyond the Pale

This is a short blog just to demonstrate the complete one-sided and biased reporting that is being spewed from the BBC website.

This is what passes for journalism on the UK’s premier news site. A brilliant website which I use a lot, but something has to be done about this crude anti-Israel propaganda that passes for balanced comment.

Here is the headline from Sunday:

New Israeli air strike into Gaza after ‘ceasefire’

Now what to you think that implies?

It implies that Israel broke the ceasefire. LIES. There was never any ceasefire despite the vaunted Egyptian brokerage. Islamic Jihad kept firing and ignored it.

One Palestinian was killed in a new Israeli air strike in Gaza, hours after Egypt apparently brokered a ceasefire.

Those perfidious Jews are at it again – they cannot be trusted to sit by and watch rockets fired at cities of more than 200,000 people and they completely ignore the BBC’s attempts to mendaciously and cynically make its readers believe Israel is at fault.

Then there’s a picture of Israeli fire crew dousing a car. What do you think their caption should be? Maybe ‘Israeli cities under constant barrage, hundreds of thousands in bomb shelters, schools closed’?

No. This is what the caption says:

Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel, after five militants were killed in an Israeli air strike

So what does that imply, pray tell? It implies, dear reader, that the ‘militants’ are responding to an Israeli air strike. It does not tell you that this very air strike was in response to ‘rockets’ – read missiles – being fired at Israeli cities.

The BBC turns this deadly attack on Israel into a schoolyard game of ‘he started it, miss’.

So for those of you who still are not sure, here’s the actual truth:

There would be no Israeli air strikes if there were no missiles from Gaza.

Now if you read the article I am referring to, it actually gives a reasonable account – so why do they spoil it by letting someone from Respect write the headlines and the captions? Am I contradicting myself? No. Anyone who does not know the realities of this conflict would read the headline first, have their opinion formed for them, then read the rest in the light of that headline.

And the BBC know it. The same person who wrote the article surely did not write the headline. Someone is saying ‘hmm, a balanced article, let’s see what I can do to spin it against Israel and still get away with it’.

SACK THEM!